Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids improve brain function and structure in older adults

Cereb Cortex. 2014 Nov;24(11):3059-68. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bht163. Epub 2013 Jun 24.


Higher intake of seafish or oil rich in long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (LC-n3-FA) may be beneficial for the aging brain. We tested in a prospective interventional design whether high levels of supplementary LC-n3-FA would improve cognition, and addressed potential mechanisms underlying the effects. Sixty-five healthy subjects (50-75 years, 30 females) successfully completed 26 weeks of either fish oil (2.2 g/day LC-n3-FA) or placebo intake. Before and after the intervention period, cognitive performance, structural neuroimaging, vascular markers, and blood parameters were assayed. We found a significant increase in executive functions after LC-n3-FA compared with placebo (P = 0.023). In parallel, LC-n3-FA exerted beneficial effects on white matter microstructural integrity and gray matter volume in frontal, temporal, parietal, and limbic areas primarily of the left hemisphere, and on carotid intima media thickness and diastolic blood pressure. Improvements in executive functions correlated positively with changes in omega-3-index and peripheral brain-derived neurotrophic factor, and negatively with changes in peripheral fasting insulin. This double-blind randomized interventional study provides first-time evidence that LC-n3-FA exert positive effects on brain functions in healthy older adults, and elucidates underlying mechanisms. Our findings suggest novel strategies to maintain cognitive functions into old age.

Keywords: cognitive aging; diffusion tensor imaging; executive functions; intima media thickness; voxel-based morphometry.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aging / blood
  • Aging / drug effects*
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Anthropometry
  • Brain / anatomy & histology
  • Brain / drug effects*
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Carotid Intima-Media Thickness
  • Cholesterol / blood
  • Cognition / drug effects*
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Fasting / blood
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / pharmacology*
  • Female
  • Gray Matter / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Lipoproteins / blood
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Prospective Studies
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • White Matter / drug effects


  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3
  • Lipoproteins
  • Cholesterol